Parents will fork out some $8.5 billion on back-to-school electronics this year. That works out to around $200-$300 per child on new gadgets alone. While that might not sound like much when it comes to landing a new laptop, you might be surprised just how far you can stretch those tech dollars this year.
According to a recent shopping survey, laptops are at the top of the list for back-to-school tech tools. For cost-conscious parents, Chromebooks are worth a serious look since they deliver all the computer power most students need, at a fraction of the cost of a traditional notebook. A few great new models like the Acer C720, the Samsung Series 2, and HP's Chromebook 11are priced at under $300. The main drawback is they require a constant Internet connection to perform most tasks.
When it comes to smartphones, another survey showed that two out of every three parents think teens actually need one. Of course, three out of every three teens agrees. For this device though, it really pays to do your homework ahead of time. Regardless of which phone your teen falls in love with, you'll want a cash-saving wireless plan to go along with it. T-Mobile has a pretty decent option right now that includes four lines with unlimited talk and text, and a whopping 10GB of LTE data for $100. The catch? It ends in 2016 and you'll need to sign up before Sept. 30 to get in on it.
Tablets can also be a great tool for back to school, and when it comes to Web research and online homework, they're a reliable choice. If you want something rugged, the Sony Xperia Z2 tablet gets big points for being the only tablet capable of surviving a dunk in water. Its 10.1-inch display and dual speakers make it a top-of-the-line choice, but you'll need to go to Verizon to get the 4G LTE version for $500.
Logitech's Ultrathin Keyboard Folio makes typing assignments and jotting down notes much easier than tapping away on the touchscreen. It uses Bluetooth to connect to the iPad Air and iPad mini, and the case even doubles as a stand, which makes it great for responding to e-mails, hammering through research papers and studying, no matter where you are. Prices start at $90.
Losing a paper or collection of important notes is the absolute worst thing that can happen to a student, but the Seagate Backup Plus Slim Portable Drive can prevent it. You can protect your entire digital life with just a click, which means it's perfect for busy students who can barely remember to eat breakfast in the morning. A massive 2TB drive costs around $100.
The Trapper Keeper is one of the most iconic student accessories, and now it's back to protect your iPad. With classic designs and a variety of sizes to fit tablets large and small, the rebirth of this classic organizer is a mix of old school and new school, which makes it perfect for, well, school! Starting at $24.99.
To see jaws drop, kids can use the Livescribe 3 Smartpen to record everything they write and hear during class, then play back the results and watch the rest of the students turn green with envy. They can jot down notes on paper and have them automatically transferred to their iPad or iPhone, and even search for specific notes by keyword. At $149, it's a good investment that will last a long time.
Grado's SR60e headphones produce big-budget sound for a relatively tiny price tag. The high-end construction means the $79 headphones will keep pumping out tunes even after they've been tossed in a backpack for the hundredth time.
Go all old school with this Jam Rewind Cassette. Do kids these days even know what a cassette is? This one is a portable, wireless Bluetooth speaker, with eight-hour battery life. A built-in microphone means you can use it as a speakerphone, too. There is also a 3.5mm out for connecting it to old school, non-wireless devices. The Jam Rewind puts out big sound for such a small package and comes in several colors. At $99, this is a cool price for a cool device.
Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech contributor and host of USA TODAY's digital video show TECH NOW. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferJolly.